Bogota vs. Medellin: The Eternal Debate

Which is the better city, Bogota or Medellin? There are two well-defined camps amongst visitors, expat residents and travellers when it comes to this long running debate. I am certain to ruffle some feathers, upset others and offend the rest and still be unable to come to a conclusion. As a resident of Bogota, but a long time and well publicized critic of the city in various blogs my opinions are going to be in no way objective. I do however, enjoy living in the capital.

As Cali was the first city I got to know in Colombia back in 1998, I came in with a different perspective regarding Bogota and Medellin. My knowledge of Latin American cities is pretty complete having traveled in and worked in most capitals and seen each for their benefits and drawbacks.

Which do you prefer the Medellin Metro or Bogota’s Transmillenio?

Initially as a backpacker I was far more enamored with Medellin. I was, after all, not looking to live there and was interested in the nightlife, a good climate, pretty girls and catching a few football matches all the while following a route around the city to explore the legacy of Pablo Escobar, up and down the metro cable, along the much vaunted metro system all in the name of journalism. I wrote the now obvious article in 2002 for CNN Traveller magazine about the turnaround of the city from a dark Gotham of murders and contraband to a city of progressive ideas and industry. But later, as I came to live here in Colombia, the attraction of Medellin wore thin as I started looking for more than the superficial.

(Here’s another helpful article on the subject in question by www.tellanto.com)

Culturally speaking Bogota is the superior city, this comes from being the capital and that a great deal is invested into the arts and education. There are so many universities in the downtown Candelaria and around the seat of power that you are immersed immediately into a melting pot of electric and political graffiti, galleries, museums, bookstores and profoundly historical buildings. Medellin’s culture as a city is far more contemporary and probably is not what the Mayor nor governor of Antioquia would want to promote, that of a place of violence and cartels. Theatres and museums are new to Medellin but those that are here are very good.

It is hard to be the second city and this is a misnomer for Medellin. Bogota may be the capital but the paisas of Medellin will not stand for this kind of disrespect. They truly believe that theirs is the number one city in terms of progressive and inclusive urban planning through an able public transport sector and former Mayor Sergio Fajardo’s library project. I guess having a pretty powerful football team in Atletico Nacional helps too. Putting a huge escalator in to unite some more impoverished barrios is certainly forward thinking, but it also only works for a city of a relative size. Medellin has had a great period in the spotlight as birthplace of two-time and always polemical former President Alvaro Uribe. This does merit a mention and would go some way to explaining a lack of modesty held by paisas. It was after all their land that produced the president who put the guerrilla to the sword…almost.

Alvaro Uribe, Botero and The Museo in Medellin

This last weekend I had the opportunity to visit Guatape, a tourist destination, two hours outside Medellin. The countryside was spectacular, the town well-kept and the people incredibly polite. Well worth a visit for the hikes, the lake-side activities and of course traditional paisa food heavy on frijoles and pork scratchings and oh so filling. What struck me though was while I was waiting at the bus stop, there was a local buying a ruana – a local type of poncho – that had the slogan “Si Antioquia no se Despierta, Colombia no Desayuna”.This translates as: “If Antioquia doesn’t get out of Bed, Colombia won’t have breakfast.” Funny at first, but truly paisa. There’s comedy but quite an arrogant stance as well. In actual fact Norte de Santander and Santander produced more fruit, vegetables and beef individually as departments in 2011 (DANE statistics) than Antioquia. I haven’t even checked out the figures from Boyacá or Cundinamarca. Maybe Antioquia’s hens laid more eggs?

The Paisas are hard-working, industrious and outward looking, preferring to gaze north to the United States than to Bogota for ideas and this has turned various parts of the city such as the Milla de Oro and El Poblado into complexes of huge modern apartments, shopping malls and fast food eateries. This is fine if this is what you are looking for, and for the long-term traveler perhaps this might be comforting.

Bandeja Paisa

Talking of travelers I had a discussion with a friend in the tourist industry not too long ago and he spoke of a French tourist who, upon looking at the streams of rain falling in Bogota smirked and said: “they should just move the capital to Medellin.” Surely a judgment based on happy travels on an accessible metro system and sunny weather.

But something struck me as we flew out of the Rio Negro airport and the jet circled over the Aburra Valley in which Medellin is situated. It’s all an illusion, the modernity, the progressiveness and cleanliness as it exists within an incredibly small area. Just try visiting the communas and the places hard to reach on the periphery of the city. Not so grand.

Should Medellin be the capital? Frankly, if they want it, they are welcome to it. Let’s see how this suffocating valley adapts to a swell of thousands more displaced people building makeshift homes, on the streets, in the public transport. Please, take the bureaucracy and corruption associated with the politicians here. There’s nowhere else for Medellin to grow except up the valley walls. That said Bogota has serious flaws as well, on one side there’s the Cerros Orientales which you are not supposed construct upon but somehow mega apartment blocks are springing up, most of the city is built on rivers creating serious instability and then there’s the issue of the peat bogs extending out into the countryside.

Neither city is ideal. Perhaps one could say that due to its location Bucaramanga is well suited. Only on the map, but the risk of the city being completely destroyed by an earthquake is all too real. Cartagena would be the historical choice, but the islands and access hinder this. Villavicencio would be a good bet in order to create communication and infrastructure into the under-populated, isolated and overlooked nether jungle regions. But, we all really know what the logical and viable option is…Barranquilla. I digress…

Sexy Bogota

My final two points can roll into one. Only a few weeks ago someone contacted me through my tumblr blog to ask if I could help mediate in a discussion he was having with his brother. “Where are the fittest girls in Colombia from, Bogota or Medellin?” I don’t recall which city he was rooting for but I remember thinking when I first came to Medellin that the women were spectacular. Then, I suppose that the plasticity and novelty wore thin. “Bogota has fine looking women,” a friend retorted when I put the issue to him: “it’s just that the weather in Bogota doesn’t lend itself to scantily clad women as it does in Medellin.” I guess you are more likely to see chicas in turtlenecks and a scarf, suggesting nothing and leaving everything to imagination in Bogota.

Botero’s Bird of Peace

So, it’s the climate? Yes, Medellin’s climate is far more accommodating than that of Bogota. I think between the years 2007 and 2010 when I first moved to Bogota it rained every single day without fail. This was down to meteorological peculiarities, but it was enough to make any SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) sufferer leap from the Torre Colpatria in despair.

So, where does this leave us? Medellin has a warmer climate and is flourishing…Bogota is thin on oxygen and suffering due to corruption and indifference. But, that’s it; the capital is always going to a place of greater discord and political games while the second city is meant to flourish for exactly the reason in that it is not the capital. Medellin would not thrive as a capital city it would suffer just as Bogota does.

A beautiful Sunday in Bogota

Barranquilla should be the capital and Cali has the most attractive women. There you have it!

29 thoughts on “Bogota vs. Medellin: The Eternal Debate

    • Yes, this could easily be the debate, but I guess my argument is kind of centered around the fact that Bogota still remains the most international and culturally rich of the two cities. If I were to throw Cali further into the mix I think it would come out higher than Medellin certainly.

      • Cali es un pueblo grande regado y muy feo en un 60% es la verdad yo viví ahí, y lo de las mujeres mas lindas eso es puro cuento aunque no tengo nada contra la gente de color,Cali tiene mas del 70 % de negritos la ciudad latina con la comunidad mas grande de gente de color….

  • Loved the article, as I also lived in Bogota in the same years the rain forced me to move to Barranquilla. I am from London UK and so did not want more rain! I can access both Santa Marta and Cartagena very easily and the sun shines all day and no traffic!

    • Mike, as a Londoner as well I thank you kindly for the comment, the rain here has been awful, but fortunately for my mental health 2012 has been a great deal better. I get to travel a great deal which keeps me sane.

  • Actually, it's Sergio Fajardo… : )

    Agreed, Medellín is trapped in this valley, and certainly does have its share of corruption. I live a little ways downstream, and you're right the climate and the paisas do it for me…

  • I am from London, live in Medellín but love to visit Bogotá as much as possible as for me it offers me so many more choices than Medellín and when I feel a little homesick for London, Bogotá does the trick! I can even where my warmer clothes from England. To live in Bogotá would be very difficult becasue of the weather. I hate grey rainy days, but love the city when the sun shines. The climate in Medellín is sublime and for a Brit its paradise. For now it works just fine, so long as I can get to the capital on a frequent basis and I am also able to get to the Pacific Coast, drive to the Coffee Region and I also drive to Baranquilla and Santa Marta a lot so the geographic location is pretty cool.

    • Yes, geographically Medellin works very well for the destinations you mention Patrick. Bogota, when the sun is shining is divine, but this city needs a complete overhaul of the infrastructure to make it easier to get out!

    • Hi Patrick, completely agree with you! Swapping one rainy country for another is not a big change for me, so the sun is needed. However I am grateful also to visit Bogota on occasions as well as a quick hop upto Miami for shopping.
      Pleased to see I'm not the only Brit with that thought 🙂

    • Hi! So what do you do in Bogotà? I’m here for business for a week what’s a good place to go out and look at pretty people?

  • Good article. Enjoyed reading it especially after I have had the good fortune of spending a long weekend in Medellin with the family plus travel for work purposes to Bucaramanga, Bogota, Cali, Manizales in October and November, and yes today was another hot sunny day in Barranquilla along with a warm December breeze to take the edge of the heat!!! Beats the chill in the UK or the rain in Bogota.

    • Maybe in the new year. There has been quite a bit of press about Mompos recently in the newspapers and magazines and each time I see the photos I feel that should go there to capture the lovely colonial architecture on fil…. I mean digital. It would be nice to plan, to make the trip on a bank holiday weekend with the family.

      When are you going to be there over the next few months?

      Which would be the best way to travel there by car from Barranquilla, via Cartagena y Sincelejo or more direct South following the river Magdalena passing towns like Calamar, San Juan Nepomuceno, El Carmen De Bolivar etc.?

      • I am here into the beginning of January and then sporadically from then on depending on work. I would suggest a trip down from Barranquilla through Carmen de Bolivar and then via the ferry in Magangue and then on to Mompos. And for the return you could leave from Mompos to Talaigua Nueva – Santa Ana – La Gloria to Carmen de Bolivar and up to Barranquilla just to vary the experience.

  • El mejor negocio del mundo comprar a Medellín por lo que verdaderamente es y venderla por lo que los paisas hablan de ella, es una ciudad que va a quedar en el pasado dentro de 20 años, su verde es pálido incomparable con el de Bogota, no tiene ni mar ni playa, su rio es contaminado, su parque lleras parece una zona rosa de un pueblo de Cundinamarca como Girardot, Barranquilla se va a llevar a Medellín, las mujeres paticorticas, las mujeres bonitas en Medellín se llaman pereiranas (lindas mujeres), no tiene arquitectura antigua, y lo moderno desiquilibra su fealdad, no hay placer de caminar todo es loma, su bienvenida es una mareada con vomito despues de casi una hora que queda el aeropuerto…

    • Carlos creo que tienes razón en algunas cosas, pero en cuanto a las mujeres, todas las paisas son hermosas y eso incluye a Pereira, Armenia, Antioquia. Yo he visitado paisalandia, incluyendo muchos pueblos de Antioquia, donde las mujeres son completamente "naturales"…y te aseguro que las mujeres más hermosas de Colombia son las Paisas.

  • Para mi las Costenas tienen el mejor cuerpo de todas las colombianas. Siempre tiene buenas nalgas y busto como las Dominicanas y Brasilienas. De cara las paisas,y las de Bucaramanga. Bogota perdon pero son muy flacas para mi. Bueno cada uno con su gusto.

  • Para mí la más retrazada infraestructuralmente es Barranquilla. Sus mujeres son hermosas aunque claramente son sobrepasadas por las paisas y el eje cafetero, tambien posee muy pocos centros comerciales, cerca a mi casa los únicos que hay son los buenavista 1 y 2 y el centro comercial americáno y otro lejano es el portal del prado, tambien junto con Cartagena carece de Autopistas lo contrario a Cali, Medellín y Bogotá. Su único parque temático es el Venezuela y lo peor es que este carece de montaña rusa, la gente no es aburrida, pero se divierte con el desorden y el trago, mucho desempleo y todo es sur esta lleno de gente imprudente y pobreza, en las calles se ve mucha falta de cultura ciudadana, mucho accidente y cuando llueve se forman los arroyos que no permiten transitar en medio de la lluvia. Otra cosa que leí fue que Barranquilla es la única de las 5 mayores ciudades de Colombia que no tiene un edificio que sobrepase los 150 mts de altura, por cierto es la cuarta y el edificio Grattacielo llegara a los 140, no es suficiente.
    Listado:
    5. Cartagena:
    Grand bay club, 161 mts
    4. Barranquilla:
    Torre grattacielo(En construcción), +140 mts de altura.
    3. Santiago de Cali:
    Torre de cali, 183 mts de altura, La tercera más grande en Colombia.
    2. Medellín:
    Centro coltejer, 175 mts de altura
    1. Bogotá:
    Torre Colpatria, 196 mts de altura, la más alta del pais y la tercera en américa del sur.

    Y además Barranquilla es la más joven de las 5 mayores ciudades de Colombia con tan solo 130 años, superada por las demás por más de 200 años, eso significa que fue hecha mal y a la carrera XD. Alcaldeza arregle su ciudad es una mierda.

  • Que gran tontería. Estuve hace poco en bogotá y no hay comparación alguna: en infraestructura medellín se la lleva por delante, en transporte ni se diga y si la crítica es ir lanza en ristre contra medellín porque está en un valle entonces usted es un poco tonto porque es evidente que medellín se está extendiendo en el oriente cercano, incluso se va a construir un túnel que va a dejar a ese valle a 10 minutos de la ciudad.

    Sus argumentos son insipidos, superficiales y completamente absurdos. Se nota muy bien que se le ha impregnado el odio que los rolos le tienen a medellín para no admitir su superioridad.

    • Chistoso el comentario, claramente no leiste nada, hablo bien de Medellin, pero me gustaria comentar que tampoco un tunel va a ser suficiente. Imaginete la congestion de una nueva ciudad al otro lado intentando entrar asi. Medellin tiene mucho pero mucho a su favor pero en realidad esta al borde del colapso, mientras que Bogota ya colapso.

    • Just reviewing the comments and my own comments that I wrote over a year ago. I’m now back in Bogota having decided that Barranquilla just did not offer me the culture and restaurant that I find in Bogota. So, here we are back in Bogota. I Still have a office in Barranquilla but commute now. My main office is in Houston, TX so that also helps with adding in the variety. However, I am not sure any one place in Colombia fulfills my needs. I’m writing this sitting in my bed freezing from the cold! So, maybe medellin is the better place? My wife is from Barranquilla but was born in Santa Anna, maybe a visit to mompos should also be on the list of places to visit Richard?

      [WORDPRESS HASHCASH] The poster sent us ‘0 which is not a hashcash value.

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